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Thoughts on Reach (4K words)
Posted By: Cody MillerDate: 9/17/10 11:57 a.m.

Do not say TLDR, I warned you. Also these are general thoughts, NOT a review.

These thoughts are going to cover the campaign and story elements only. Iím only now starting to invest some time into multiplayer, and while an actual review of the whole game wont be wonít be possible for at least a little while, it seems to be better than both Halo 2 and 3ís multiplayer.

The single player elements in Reach range from outstanding, to downright boring, but on the whole Reach is a really solid experience that I personally plan on investing time into mastering.

The weapons are a definite improvement, insofar as thereís more weapons and weapon combinations that are viable or useful on higher difficulties. Everything in Halo but the Needler was useful, and could be combined with other weapons to form useful combinations, in part because the game was a lot more lenient about what sort of combat you could engage in. On Legendary, both close and long range combat was viable Ė it really just depended on your preference.

The following games shifted the balance overwhelmingly to distance combat, and so on the higher difficulty settings the usefulness of the Battle Rifle / Plasma Pistol combo pretty much outshined everything else. The sword was used to deal with the flood, but when it came to the covenant you came packing the Battle Rifle or you left dead. This unfortunately led to only one play style being viable, namely distance combat with the Battle Rifle or the Carbine (for the most part).

Reach on Legendary actually pushes you even harder into the distance combat style of play. You seem even weaker than the Master Chief in Halo 2, and even groups of grunts will make short work of you if you want to get close. The thing is though, there are many more viable weapon combos in Reach, so while youíre forced to keep your distance, youíve got more options than just using the Plasma Pistol then the Battle Rifle on the elites, which gives the game some variety and room for strategy!

Make no mistake though, the Plasma Pistol / DMR combo is still going to be something you use a lot. Obviously the Plasma Pistol / Pistol is effective as well. However, the focus bean and the grenade launcher really serve to mix things up a bit. The Focus Beam can effectively become a long range Plasma Pistol, knocking out the shields of distant elites while you finish them with the DMR. The grenade launcher is very good at clearing grunts and jackals, but not so good at dealing with elites. But combined with the Focus Beam, you can drop their shields and kill them outright, or with a grenade round. These weapon combinations have many places where they are useful, so you actually have some options as to how you will approach things.

The Sniper Rifle, FRG, Spartan Laser and the Rocket Launcher serve the same purpose as before. The rest of the weapons are much less useful though. The Concussion Rifle is just a big waste of time, throwing the enemies around without doing much actual damage. The Needler can be useful but you never get enough ammo for it and itís ineffective on Jackals. The Plasma Launcher is no good considering how long it takes to just fire even one grenade. The Shotgun is pretty useless except for the Hunters, since you never get the opportunity to get close to anything on higher difficulties. Likewise with the sword. The Assault Rifle and the Plasma Repeater are too weak to be of any use except if you are totally out of ammo and just need any kind of weapon. So while we donít have a situation where every weapon has a use in high level play like in Halo, it is much more interesting than Halo 2 and Halo 3.

Loadouts are kind of a mixed bag in that regard as well. Really only Hologram, Sprint, and Jetpack seem to be useful on higher difficulty settings. Active Camo is totally useless, since if you move now you become visible again. Youíre only invisible when crouch walking or standing still, which seems to defeat the purpose of this powerup in the first palce. Armor Lock is pretty useless too all things considered, since if youíre about to die, the Covenant arenít going to forget about you when you activate it Ė theyíll just pop you off after it wears out. The fewer members of Noble Team around, the less effective this is.

Hologram is super useful for distracting enemies while you make an escape to cover, as is Sprint. Overall, Sprint and Hologram seem to be the most useful on Legendary.

Itís like Bungie read my thread when they were designing Reach! Itís full of interesting encounters. They pretty much fixed everything wrong with ODST. The environments are interesting giving you a lot of options for positioning. Thereís enemies above and below you. Thereís invisible Elites. Itís cool. Canít say enough good things about how most of the encounters play out. In fact, near the end of the game there is a sequence that matches exactly what I suggested Bungie try when I was pressed on telling just HOW you could improve the encounters from ODST.

Vehicle play feels about the same as the previous games, although since you are weaker, youíre generally more vulnerable in one than before. The sections though are generally pretty nice, with wide areas and multiple paths to take, you can approach your objective from a wide variety of angles. Driving through the first few levels was a huge flashback to macworld and E3Ö awesome. The lack of vehicle health bar thoughÖ this is not awesome. I guess youíre supposed to go by how damaged the vehicle looks, but since health is a resource, knowing how much you have at any given time is critical! Hiding it from us is really really poorly thought out. The back of the warthog also looks very dull. Thatís the only way I can describe it, but it looked better in Halo 3 for sure.

Some people are complaining about legendary, but it all seems okay to me. You really have to plan out what weapons you want, and adjust your playstyle. No, on Legendary you canít just shoot down everything with the warthog, or kill anything with the assault rifle. There are a bit too many one hit kills for my liking though. I think ODST did it perfectly with the snipers. One shot nearly kills you, but lets you know youíre in trouble. The second one kills you. Elites are also so fast, that if one has a concussion rifle he can run and and one shot you before you even know whatís coming. Iím looking at it the same way I looked at Halo 2 though and just learning the locations of all the enemies that can blast me to oblivion instantly.

The Elites are a lot of fun now. They are very smart. They will flank you if you are not careful, and they will order grunts to distract you while they get into better positions. I feel like they have a great sense of self preservation too, avoiding combat and taking cover when their shields drop. As of yet I havenít found a way to manipulate their AI like was possible in Halo 2, so right now itís the wild west. Ohhh how fun!

The Brutes are less fun, since they will actually just stand there and let you shoot off their helmets, then get a headshot. I would have liked for them to be more active. At least they are better than in Halo 3 and ODST, but they are nowhere near as fun as the elites. They also lookÖ well they look BAD. I donít know what it is but they more resemble the brutes in Halo 2 in terms of graphical quality than those in Halo 3 / ODST.

Iím not sure how I feel about the hunters. Somebody on HBO, I forget who mentioned having high risk, easy kill scenarios for the Hunters and I tend to agree. The Hunters are tedious more than they are challenging. I think making them more deadly, yet have less health would also have been a good choice. As it is now, you just have to slog your way through until you can get them to turn around and put shotgun shells in their backs. Either that or save up Rockets. Either way, thereís nothing terribly challenging about their encounters. The second Hunter rarely seems to give me much trouble when I am focused on the other Hunter. Fighting Two Elites is fun, since the second one will try to fuck with you while youíre killing the first one. Their weapons are easily dodged by jumping to the left. So I donít know about them.

Still, thereís some parts that make some of the same dumb mistakes that ODST made. Thereís a sequence where you get a laser targeting gun to call down an air strike onto wraiths. BORING. Having superweapons like that is pretty lame. I think Gears of War did it better, since whenever you had to call down the satellite beam there was always shit everywhere trying to kill you, so you had to clear a way, then sneak it in when you could go a few seconds without being shot at. In Reach everything was so far away, they might as well have just done the air strike in a cutscene it was that lame. Press Right trigger to win.

The sabre section was similarly unfun and stupid. First of all, thereís no radar, and having one is pretty standard for games of this type to orient yourself and to find enemy ships to shoot. Second of all, the game auto leads the shots for you, automatically doing the one thing that requires skill, focus and practice for you. Put your reticle on the banshee. Pew Pew Pew. You win. Boring and a waste of my time, even on Legendary. I could be playing TIE Fighter, which is one of the best games of all time. Bungieís decision to include this mini-game in Reach was a mistake, since Reach is an FPS, and thatís what itís good at. Youíre not making the game any better by making me play this totally unrelated thing, thatís boring and unfun anyway. You donít add variety by adding shitty mini games. Iíd much rather have had another cool encounter! Or customizable controls!

Likewise there are no customizable controls. Think this isnít a big deal? All BOLL wants to do is swap the grenade select and melee buttons, something easy to do with fully customizable controls, yet impossible with their current presets. I donít want to hear anybody say that it would require testing and be too monumental an effort. Plenty of high profile games for the 360 as complex as Reach feature fully configurable controls (Orange box, Gears of War, etc). Valve and Epic did it. Hell, even simple XBLA games without vast testing resources do it. So when Bungie says they couldnít do it because they didnít have the resources, I just donít buy it, especially when you DID have the resources to add and test the shitty sabre section, which Iíll bet was much more of an undertaking than adding customizable controls would have been.

Thereís some other stuff Reach doesnít have that it should, like music/sfx/vox sliders to set levels individually, and the ability to save without quitting (something Bungie still denies is possible).

I didnít mind the whole invincible ally thing so much, because you canít really rely on them to do all the work for you. You actually just have to do some killing yourself. Although, as much as I like Jorge, when he says ďIím taking fire!Ē Iím thinking ďI donít care, youíre invincible, and I have a zealot on my assĒ.

I was disappointed that the Jetpack didnít make a more general appearance, instead only appearing on levels designed for it. The sections were obviously screaming USE THE JETPACK, where a little subtlety would have been nice. I donít know maybe I just missed a few jetpack loadouts or something because I only ever found them before levels designed specifically for Jetpacks. If it were as common as Sprint and the like, I think things could have been even MORE interesting, butÖ

The barriers are still here and they are a bad game design decision. I donít know, maybe I donít care as much this time because the encounters are so stimulating but come on. Right at the beginning, there movement on a motion tracker on the roof of a house youíre in. As I exit what do I do? Well, what I think most people would do and thatís CHECK THE ROOF. I try to jump onto it, and lo and behold thereís a barrier there. SERIOUSLY BUGNIE?! In fact, I actually kept track of how many times I hit a barrier during the course of my normal play. Not trying to trick. Not trying speedrun. Just trying to play the damn game normally.


Youíre killing me here.

The Ďreturn to the battlefieldí thing is just even more offensive. My God, this little thing actually makes me wish youíd have just put a barrier up. At the start of a level I turn right and walk into some water. RETURN TO THE BATTLEFIELD. When defending the forerunner artifact I want to get to some high ground with my DMR. RETURN TO THE BATTLEFIELD. The worst part is, it KILLS you. Who thought this up? No seriously. How this enhances the game in any way is totally and utterly beyond me. Seriously. What was the rationale for including it? The one good thing I have to say is that at least unlike the Halo 2 killzones, it gives you a warning. Also these can be bypassed through some trickery, but the fact that they are there at all is just so offensive to me.

Graphically, I think Reach finally began to approach some semblance of quality art design, which is obvious since itís taking inspiration from the best game of the last decade. Anybody describing the graphics as Ďgrittyí isnít quite right though. Thereís nothing really gritty about them, just the preference for brown and earthly colors, which mimics Gears of War. Still, while Halos 1-3 were all over the place with art design, Reach is pretty solid, and while not quite up to par with what the Japanese are doing, this is one of the best examples to come out of the States since Gears of War. Itís not as good as Gears of War though.

As nice is the style is, there are major issues with the graphics. The first one, being the most noticeable for me, was the fact that title chapters during the cinematics, and certain HUD elements are not in the action safe. This means they get cut off. During cnematics, the titles are either half cut off, or so far off I canít even read them. Iím not kidding you, I still donít know some of the titles because I couldnít even see them. The interface for the main menus likewise has a tiny bit of the buttons on the bottom left cut off. The compass goes off screen when you enter a vehicle. This is pretty simple stuff Bungie. If you want it to be seen, put it in the action safe. It boggles my mind such a boneheaded mistake was allowed to ship. Not everybody plays Reach in HD all the time.

There are still no subtitles for in game radio chatter, and the subtitles for the cutscenes are teeny tiny and ugly yellow.

The bluring is likewise really bad. I notice it during cutscenes. I notice it during play. It just looks bad. It is such a shame, because graphically Reach is great, but thatís ruined when I see shimmering whenever something moves. Other games with motion blur like Portal look pretty good, but probably because they donít use the same algorithm Bungie is using, which is obviously designed to be fast rather than look good.

Reach renders its frames at 1152 x 720, which is higher than that of Halo 3ís 1152 x 640. I know people poo pooed Bungie for not rendering Halo 3 at a full HD resolution, but it was absolutely the right thing to do. When it comes down to it, having your images look good and running smoothly trumps resolution every time. Who cares that COD4 was 600p or that MGS4 was 540p? These games delivered a good looking image that ran smoothly. Reach does not deliver good images that run smoothly. It delivers bad looking motion blur that probably wouldnít have needed to be implemented if they had just rendered Reach at a lower resolution in the first place. This was a huge mistake, and very much affects the game. I understand why Bungie did this, since thereís pressure from Microsoft to have great looking games for the HD generation, and pressure from idiots who think you canít have good graphics unless itís in HD. It doesnít even make sense from the perspective of making screenshots look good, since those are always rendered out higher resolution anyway!

As far as the story goes, Iím not going to comment on the canon and what is or isnít right and whatnot, but I will touch upon something that I think Bungie is still doing poorly, and thatís compelling storytelling.

Halo did it perfectly. Bungie if you need inspiration, look to Halo. The problem with Halo 3 and ODST and Reach, is that the stories are not told effectively. What I mean by that, is that when you look at Halo, every single mission has a purpose that drives the plot forward. Everything you do in some way advances the story. While the level Halo doesnít do this per se, it establishes the new setting, which in a way does help advance the story since the setting is important. When you look at your missions though, every one of them advances the story through your actions!

The problem with Bungieís new games is that we are given lots of missions which do not advance the plot or story at all. Taking com relays? Doesnít advance the story. Evacuating civilians? Doesnít advance the story. Blow up this one carrier? Doesnít advance the story! Most of the missions in Reach were a Ďgo here and do this thingí type of mission, but the problem is that thing was in no way connected to the plot. See, when you rescue Keyes in Halo, he tells you that the covenant think Halo is a weapon. This advances the story forward! What does whatever it is you were doing in the Falcon do to advance the story? Nothing!

And so with each mission in Halo, the story deepens! The plot thickens! Every single mission in Halo we are doing shit that matters and is necessary for the story to continue! Out of our actions, the plot moves forward after every mission!

The middle missions in Reach do not advance the plot at all. Activating com beacons or air strike indicators or whatever those things were isnít advancing the story. Blowing up a carrier that doesnít contain any important characters or items or anything like that doesnít advance the story. Doing whatever we were doing at powerhouse (I donít even know, thatís how pointless it was) doesnít advance the story. Blowing shit up so civilian transports can get away doesnít advance the story.

Here is some million dollar advice Bungie: the goal in every mission, when obtained, should advance the plot forward OR at the end of every mission something should happen that advances the plot forward. What you are doing as of late is designing your missions around the idea that there is this physical impediment in your way for some arbitrary reason and you have to get rid of it. This is not plot. That is action. Now in Reach, thatís fun and compelling action to play, but story wise it is very bad.

And so this was all just so frustrating for me on a story level, since all the stuff that happens in Reach is really quite interesting and no doubt makes a good story. But it doesnít matter, since Reachís missions donít further the story.

Do this exercise. Think to yourself, what would happen if I cut this mission? Could the plot still continue?

Letís look at Halo shall we:

Pillar of Autumn: No. Itís what jump starts the whole game.
Halo: No. It introduces us to Halo, and provides time for The Autumn to Crash.
T&R: No. If we donít rescue Keyes, we donít learn Haloís a weapon, the covenant fire it and we all die..
Silent Cartographer: Yes. Thereís no real reason why we need to find the cartographer, THEN go to the maproom. Skipping to AoTCR is an option.
AoTCR: No. Without getting to the control room, we never learn where keyes is, and Cortana never learns about Haloís purpose.
343 GS: No. It introduces the flood and sets up the remaining conflict.
Library: Yes. Nothing really happens in this mission, GS could have teleported you right to TB and everything could continue.
TB: No. You need to stop Halo from firing.
Keyes: No. You need keyesí implants to blow up the Autumn.
Maw: No. Itís the climax.

So Haloís really only got 2 levels that donít do anything to advance the plot. What about Reach?

Winter Contingency: No. This jump starts the whole game.
Sword Base: Yes. The events of this level are pure action. Set up coms, defend shit, etc.
Nightfall: I still donít know what we were doing in this level, so definite yes.
Tip of the Spear: Yes. Blah blah take out a shield protecting some covenant thing. Again pure action and no plot at all.
Long Night of solace: Yes. Blah Blah, blow up some covenant ship which is totally unimportant. Again, pure action and no plot.
Exudus: Yes. Blah Blah, get civilians out of the city. Notice how the plot hasnít advanced AT ALL since meeting with Halsey.
New Alexandria: Yes. Blah Blah destroy some com jammers. The gameís almost over, and the plot STILL hasnít advanced since level 2.
The package: No. Finally, the plot moves. We learn we need to get Cortana to Keyes on the Autumn..
Pillar of Autumn: No. Itís the climax.

Notice how in Halo, the plot is steadily advancing all throughout the game? Now notice in Reach, how only the very beginning, and the very end of the game move the story forward at all?

This is probably the biggest thing I think Bungie needs to deal with, since they have not structured their stories well since Halo 2. You can have the best backstory in the world, but if you donít present it well then itís all wasted as it was in Reach. I mean, even Mirrorís Edge, a game with a story that was pretty bad, at least knew how to pace and structure it so that the plot keeps unfolding.

Bungie, Iíll personally send you a copy of Syd Fieldís ĎScreenplayí, a book that explains quite well how to structure your story so the plotís always advancing, if it means you can get it right in the next game. Iíll pay postage and everything. Email me at if youíd like this.

Similarly, I donít believe Halsey ever told us what the artifact was, why it was important, how the data in Cortana was going to help, etc etc. Now I knew this because Iíve read supplemental material, but if you havenít then itís quite lacking. Even the most basic of explanations of foregone. Oh right itís classified. But we need to know in order to CARE.

I guess I feel the same way HP does: the game is pretty good for the most part and really fun and challenging and interesting, but the ball was dropped on the story aspect.

Congrats Bungie, Iíll be playing this for quite some time.

Message Index


Thoughts on Reach (4K words)Cody Miller 9/17/10 11:57 a.m.
     Re: Thoughts on Reach (4K words)General Battuta 9/17/10 12:15 p.m.
     good thoughts *NM*Schedonnardus 9/17/10 12:17 p.m.
     Re: Thoughts on Reach (4K words)terminator182 9/17/10 12:34 p.m.
           Re: Thoughts on Reach (4K words)General Battuta 9/17/10 12:56 p.m.
                 Re: Thoughts on Reach (4K words)DHalo 9/17/10 6:02 p.m.
     Re: Thoughts on Reach (4K words)Ducain 9/17/10 12:43 p.m.
           Re: Thoughts on Reach (4K words)General Battuta 9/17/10 12:57 p.m.
                 Re: Thoughts on Reach (4K words)uberfoop 9/17/10 1:03 p.m.
     Re: Thoughts on Reach (4K words)NeoN 9/17/10 1:19 p.m.
           Re: Thoughts on Reach (4K words)General Battuta 9/17/10 1:32 p.m.
     Re: Thoughts on Reach (4K words)gspawn 9/17/10 1:21 p.m.
           Re: Thoughts on Reach (4K words)NeoN 9/17/10 1:38 p.m.
                 Re: Thoughts on Reach (4K words)BanditORR 9/17/10 2:41 p.m.
           Re: Thoughts on Reach (4K words)tln 9/17/10 1:40 p.m.
     Re: Thoughts on Reach (4K words)bluerunner 9/17/10 1:54 p.m.
           Re: Thoughts on Reach (4K words)gspawn 9/17/10 2:03 p.m.
     Let's take a better look at that... *SP*BlueNinja 9/17/10 2:01 p.m.
           Re: Let's take a better look at that... *SP*bluerunner 9/17/10 2:05 p.m.
                 Oh snap! *NM*BlueNinja 9/17/10 2:09 p.m.
           Re: Let's take a better look at that... *SP*Hawaiian Pig 9/17/10 8:07 p.m.
     I beg to differ.munky-058 9/17/10 2:31 p.m.
           Re: I beg to differ.Ducain 9/17/10 5:26 p.m.
           Re: I beg to differ.Hawaiian Pig 9/17/10 6:03 p.m.
     Re: Thoughts on Reach (4K words)bluerunner 9/17/10 2:40 p.m.
           Re: Thoughts on Reach (4K words)Cody Miller 9/17/10 2:52 p.m.
           Re: Thoughts on Reach (4K words)Ze Moose 9/19/10 12:38 a.m.
     Re: Thoughts on Reach (4K words)DEEP NNN 9/17/10 2:53 p.m.
     Agreed on out of bounds msgs and plot presentationreprobate 9/17/10 5:37 p.m.
     Re: Thoughts on Reach (4K words)General Vagueness 9/17/10 5:42 p.m.
           Re: Thoughts on Reach (4K words)Hawaiian Pig 9/17/10 6:00 p.m.
                 Re: Thoughts on Reach (4K words)General Vagueness 9/17/10 6:34 p.m.
                       Re: Thoughts on Reach (4K words)Crab 9/18/10 11:26 a.m.
                             Re: Thoughts on Reach (4K words)Hawaiian Pig 9/19/10 12:40 a.m.
     DropShield is most useful on Legendary by far. *NM*c0ld vengeance 9/18/10 10:17 a.m.
     Character investmentkapowaz 9/18/10 5:34 p.m.
           Re: Character investmentHawaiian Pig 9/19/10 12:37 a.m.
                 Re: Character investmentLouis Wu 9/19/10 8:08 a.m.
                       Re: Character investmentHawaiian Pig 9/19/10 4:14 p.m.
           Re: Character investmentZe Moose 9/19/10 12:44 a.m.
                 Re: Character investmentkapowaz 9/19/10 3:11 a.m.

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